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Sudbury housing starts soften, but still up from pre-pandemic levels

Although the number of residential units created decreased slightly during the first quarter of 2023, they’re still up from pre-pandemic numbers
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Carpenters work atop a new house being built in this file image.

The number of residential units created in Sudbury dipped during the first quarter of 2023, but remained greater than pre-pandemic levels.

“We saw a bit of a softening,” said Guido Mazza, the city's building services director and chief building official, reflecting on first-quarter building permit statistics.

Residential units created during the first quarter totalled 45 this year, which was a drop from the 68 recorded during the same time period in 2022 and close to the 49 in 2021. 

The annual totals for new residential units created, however, have exceeded the pre-pandemic levels, hovering around the 450 mark during the past couple of years, which exceeds the pre-pandemic average of around 300.

“The uncertainty with respect to interest rates did not reflect well on our building stats, and there may still be some uncertainty with respect to that,” Mazza said.

Part of the spike in new units in recent years has been due to an uptake of people building secondary units. There were 46 secondary units created in 2022, which was a significant jump from the nine created in 2017.

City council has taken a number of steps to make it easier for people to create secondary units, Mazza said, adding there are a number of benefits for people to take advantage of them.

“They can get additional rent to help support a mortgage, and for others we’re seeing people use it to bring in older family members who are downsizing and looking to be close to home,” he said.

In 2016, they made it so properties would no longer have to be rezoned for secondary units, and they subsequently passed bylaws allowing for the creation of a potential third unit on a residential property as part of a detached garage or standalone structure.

The city also has a program where they defer development charges, interest-free. Most of those to qualify have their charges spread out in six payments over five years once the building is approved for occupancy.

Now that the city has been charged with rolling out the province’s Bill 23, More Homes Built Faster Act, which is intended to address Ontario’s housing crisis, city officials found that they’d already adopted many of its measures.

Alongside Bill 23, the province has set out a housing target goal of 1.5 million new homes to be built by 2031. Included in this target are specific goals for 29 municipalities.

Although Greater Sudbury isn’t listed, Mazza said he’s confident the city is on track to do their share.

“Based on our current numbers, we would meet anything that the province would be projecting that we needed to do to get their 1.5 million new homes.”

There’s also a wealth of subdivisions in the books he said, adding, “It’s just a matter of the industry taking it from the blueprints and putting them into the ground.”

As for whether the city is meeting its housing needs, Mazza said they’re currently updating their household projections alongside a new development charges bylaw, which should help answer that question.

“Once those are done, or completed, we will be in a better position to assess our needs versus demand,” he said.

Overall, the first quarter of 2023 saw the total number of building permits drop to 225 from last year’s first quarter of 305, which also falls below the five-year average of 247.4. 

The building permits value, meanwhile, dropped to $31.8 million from last year’s first-quarter total of $45 million.

Of these, industrial, commercial and institutional buildings saw 61 permits issued during this year’s first quarter (83 last year), totalling $19.1 million ($22.6 million last year).

With a number of major projects “in the hopper,” Mazza said he anticipates stronger second-quarter results. Upcoming projects include the 40-unit transitional housing complex on Lorraine Street, a 24-unit residential building going in at the former school at 291 Lourdes St., multi-residential builds in The Valley and new builds at area mining sites.